In 1992, then Arden resident Kelly Joppa began an experience that would impact the next 20 years of her life by teaching her lessons that she would end up applying to many facets of her life, such as teamwork and generosity.
That experience was working for Leatherby’s Family Creamery in the Arden area.
Joppa recalls pursuing a job at Leatherby’s when in high school, thinking it would be a fun place to work. “I started off scooping ice cream like all of us do – back then it took two to three years to work up to being a waitress,” she says. In total, she worked about nine years at Leatherby’s including two years making ice cream, six to seven years waiting tables, and about a year in management.
Joppa fondly remembers working under her then manager Jennifer Leatherby, who she calls a mentor and friend, and Dave Leatherby, Sr. – known to most as “Daddy Dave” – and his wife, Sally. She talks about watching how generous the owners were in the community through food donations and taking part in fundraisers, and how they would hire people that sometimes other places would not to give them a chance.
“I was (around) 16 years old, seeing that and being impressed by it,” Joppa says. “I knew that not many places out there cared about the community in the way they did – they were just filled with generosity in that way.”
And it was these impressions that kept Joppa there for those nine years despite being wooed by other restaurant owners in the Sacramento area that told her she could make more money working for them. “I thought I love my job, I love the people I work with, I love the people I get to serve – it’s the happiest family-friendly environment,” she says. “The idea of making money wasn’t as attractive as knowing I had a great job with people who just enjoyed being there, and that’s what kept me around for all that time.”
A Little History
That enjoyment of what they do seems to be one of the secrets to the success of Leatherby’s Family Creamery, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year.
According to Dave Leatherby, Jr. – who currently operates Leatherby’s with his brother, Alan – the idea for Leatherby’s started a little over 30 years ago when he, his father and grandfather decided they wanted to try forming a new business together, and so they began to look at different opportunities. “My Dad, Dave Sr., said I want to do something that is not just a business that makes money, I want it to do something that benefits the community,” Leatherby recalls.
During this time, the trio heard from one of Leatherby’s sisters about an old-fashioned ice cream parlor being run in Oakland that they should look at. “We drove down to Oakland and my father walked in and said, ‘this is it,’” Leatherby says. “He said look at this business that has been here for 70-80 years at the time. He said we can improve on this – keep what’s good and we can do this ourselves, and we did.”
From there, the Leatherby family – which at the time included 10 children – spent a year formatting their concept for the business through visiting ice cream parlors in California and developing and testing recipes, Leatherby says. Then on August 14, 1982, the first Leatherby’s Family Creamery in the Arden area opened for business.
This initial success of the Arden location found the Leatherby family inundated with requests from across the U.S. with people wanting to start their own Leatherby’s location. So Leatherby says the family decided to establish a franchise company, which resulted in the opening of 28 Leatherby’s location in six states. “At that time the family stayed here and ran the ice cream parlors, and my Dad and I started focusing our efforts on franchising,” Leatherby says.
That splitting of the family eventually resulted in the Leatherby’s selling their franchise company and concentrating their efforts closer to home. Today Leatherby’s manages stores in the Arden area, Citrus Heights – which originally started by the Executive Airport on Freeport Boulevard in 1985, and 22 years later moved to its current location – and the newest location in Elk Grove, which just opened in May.
I Scream, You Scream
Now 30 years later, Leatherby’s is still known mainly for its ice cream, served up in enormous sundaes, dripping with decadent toppings, and named after a Leatherby family member.
Leatherby says one of the secrets to their ice cream’s success is its freshness. Each store makes its own ice cream every day, which is frozen quickly in negative 30-degree freezers to ensure a creamy texture. Additionally, Leatherby’s only uses the highest quality ingredients they can find, including cream and milk from Foster Farms Dairy and Ghirardelli chocolate.
Each store also makes the various toppings they use in their sundaes. “We make all our caramel, chocolate, hot fudge – everything is made right here,” Leatherby says. “We have a great bit copper kettle that makes 50 gallons at a time.”
And the company even grows its own nuts. After realizing how much they were spending on purchasing almonds, walnuts and pecans, the family decided to purchase a walnut farm in Sacramento and took classes to learn how to farm. “We belong to a co-op where we turn in the walnuts that we don’t use here and we can exchange them for different kinds of nuts, so everything we use it generated from our farm,” Leatherby says.
Although Leatherby’s is known for some unique flavors, Leatherby says surprisingly their biggest seller is vanilla. At a close second is their toasted almond ice cream, which is used in the company’s number one selling dessert, Alan’s Black & Tan, which Leatherby says includes toasted almond and vanilla ice creams, caramel and chocolate sauces, and homemade whipped cream.
Today, Leatherby says about 70 percent of the stores’ sales are from ice cream and 30 percent from food from its lunch and dinner menu. “It’s very simple food that’s made to complement our ice cream,” Leatherby explains. “We don’t want people getting too full on food that they can eat our ice cream. We do have some people that come in and skip their meal and eat the ice cream for their meal – we get a lot of that.”
Then and Now
Over the last 30 years, there have been a few changes made to Leatherby’s Family Creamery. For example, Leatherby says the food menu has been expanded and now includes more salads. Additionally, the dessert menu now includes different size portions, as when the company first started only one size of sundae was available.
Changes have also come over the last few years with the economic downturn. To continue to make Leatherby’s budget friendly for families, the restaurant added a child’s menu and began offering meal specials at a discounted rate.
At the same time, many things about Leatherby’s have not changed, as attested to by Joppa, who during the last 10 years worked in commercial real estate, had two children, and successfully battled breast cancer. During this time Joppa also started a blog – myhonestwalk.blogspot.com – in which she talks about her fight against cancer and what she learned during her time at Leatherby’s.
Joppa returned to Leatherby’s in July as a manager at the Elk Grove location, and says everything is still done the same. “The size of our sundaes has not changed, the way they’re made has not changed – the product has stayed completely the same,” she says. “I think the value, the heart, the generosity – all of that (is still there).”
Leatherby’s also continues to do what it can to give back to the community. Leatherby says the company supports a number of charities, and also does a number of donations throughout the year, both in ice cream and certificates to the restaurant. “We believe very strongly that we have a responsibility to give back to the community in many different ways,” he adds.
Looking forward to the next 30 years, Leatherby hopes Leatherby’s Family Creamery will continue to be a wholesome gathering place for the community where every person is welcome. “They come, they feel welcome, and they find joy here,” he says. “I hope we can continue to do that in some fashion.”